The 114th Annual Xmas Bird Count is underway. Brooklyn’s survey was on Saturday. It was a stormy day: any reasonable animal should have been hunkered down at home. Consequently, borough totals were the lowest since 1981: 110 species, with generally low numbers of individual birds. This is continuing to be the Year of the Snowy Owl, however: there were more Snowy Owls (15) than Black-capped Chickadees (4), a truly bizarre ratio. The previous record for Snowy Owls in Brooklyn CBCs, by the way, was 4, in 1937. (All the preliminary numbers are here.)
Having been dragooned into helping out the team assigned to Floyd Bennett Field (where the winds off the Bay mean it’s always colder than snuggly Cobble Hill), and hence leaving the house in the cold dark of 6 a.m., I was rewarded with spotting two of the great owls. One of them was in the foreground of my binocular view as I panned over a distant field: surprise! I watched another get spooked from its snowy ground perch (the perp was soundly chastened). It had very long wings, which moved in great slow beats; the bird never rose more than two feet above the grass. A most remarkable sight. Like the Short-eared Owls I saw in the endless daylight of Iceland, the long floppy wings are dream-like (paging Werner Herzog).
Another highlight of the freezing day was the King Eider off Beach 59th Street. That’s Queens of course (their Count was on Sunday), so I hope the bird, bobbing in the waves with a flock of Black Scoters, spent the night. These arctic sea ducks do get down both the East and West coasts of the U.S., but they’re pretty rare. I’d never seen one before. This was a male, strikingly patterned, with a knobby orange head. It was worth the icy wind slashing across the beach from the east. Both on the beach and on the concrete of the old runways at FBF, the wind was making little eddies of snow snake just the ground. Quite a hypnotic experience, although I probably would have frozen solid before actually being hypnotized.